Thousands set to protest against tuition fee rises

Thousands of students and lecturers up and down the country are expected to take to the streets today to demonstrate against the Government's proposals to treble university tuition fees.

The day of action comes ahead of bigger planned protests tomorrow as MPs gear up for a controversial vote on plans to charge students up to £9,000 per year in fees.

The National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU) said peaceful protests will be held at universities nationwide.

There will be a city centre protest in Birmingham and a mass Christmas card and letter writing session in Bournemouth, with students marching to the sorting office to deliver their letters.

Students in Bristol will hold a candlelit procession through the city centre, while those in Plymouth will also hold a candlelit vigil.

In Coventry there will be a walkout and marches are planned in Exeter, Warwick and Gloucestershire. Cambridge and Brighton will also hold protests.

Demonstrations will take place in Worcester and Staffordshire, with an all-night sit-up of debates and discussion in Wolverhampton, plus an "unfair fun fair" in Sheffield.

In London, students at King's College will hold an animal fancy dress petition gathering, with a planned protest outside the office of Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone.

There will be a mass lobby of MPs on the day of the vote, followed by a march through London and afternoon rally in Westminster.

A candlelit vigil will be held at Victoria Embankment tomorrow evening with 9,000 candles representing the potential new fee level.

Occupations and sit-ins are already taking place at universities including Bradford, Leeds and University College London.

The UCU said more than a third of England's universities were "at risk" from government cuts, with the worst hit facing mergers or even closures.

A study for the union found 49 of England's 130 higher education institutions were at "very high", "high" or "high-medium" risk of serious impact from the proposals.

It said four universities - Bishop Grosseteste University College in Lincoln, Edge Hill University in Omskirk, Newman University College in Birmingham and Norwich University College of the Arts - were at "very high risk".

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "In reality, more than one in three of England's universities could find themselves in real trouble once the landscape of higher education changes and funding cuts bite.

"The worst-case scenario is closure - something university leaders and the business secretary have both acknowledged is a possibility."